CBS 'Early Show' looks to raise ratings

CBS finally has its starting lineup for the morning in place.

The network will announce that "The Early Show" will go to a quartet of anchors: Harry Smith, Hannah Storm, Julie Chen and Rene Syler, a 39-year-old newscaster from the CBS station in Dallas with no network TV experience.

It's the third time in six years that CBS is tweaking its format and changing its morning anchors � the result of the network's inability to compete seriously in the ratings with NBC's "Today" and ABC's "Good Morning America."

Just how different the new "Early Show" will look from the one fronted by Bryant Gumbel, who left in May, and Jane Clayson, who departed last month, won't be known until the new players get in front of the camera in a few weeks.

But CBS' willingness to try and try again shows how valuable morning-TV real estate can be.

In prime time, cable has steadily chipped away at the networks' audience share. But the combined morning viewership for ABC, NBC and CBS � 13.3 million in the 2001-02 season � is higher than it was five years ago.

Profits are healthy, too. Network executives estimate that "Today" will take in more than $250 million this year, with "Good Morning America" coming close to $150 million. Even "The Early Show" will make CBS more money in the morning � about $50 million � than past efforts have.

The networks are so conscious about maintaining their morning money machines that even being a leader in the ratings isn't enough to protect jobs. Just ask "Today" executive producer Jonathan Wald, who was ousted last week. Wald lost his job largely because he no longer had the support of Katie Couric. Former "Good Morning America" producer Tom Touchet is expected to take over.

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